African Studies and Multiculturalism an Term Paper

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Social dissent and unrest should not be the result of multiculturalism, the authors point out, but nonetheless those are the social realities, in many instances, of the new global picture. There is now, like it or not, a "blurring of cultural borderlines," the authors report; and as a result, the notion of culture within the word "multiculturalism" no longer refers to habits and customs of a people in anthropological terms. Rather, "culture" in the term "multiculturalism" alludes to race, creed, sexual orientation, gender, and lifestyles of various and divers groups within the greater culture.

A very poignant quote is offered in the conclusion of the editorial, a quote which cries out to be read to those reporting on, studying and/or dealing with today's dramatic cultural changes in Western societies; it is a statement by Aijza Ahmad, who reflects the perspective of "the less-well-to-do colonial states," according to the editorial. "It is not at all clear how the celebration of a postcolonial, transnational, electronically produced cultural hybridity is to be squared with this systematic decay of countries and continents," Ahmad writes. And how will this cultural hybridity be squared "with decreasing chances for substantial proportions of the global population to obtain conditions of bare survival, let alone electronic literacy and gadgetry," he wonders.

An article in the NABJ Journal titled "Basket making is historical link: Craft provide link between cultures," offers another way in which cultures are linked. The history of Africa of course includes the grim facts that "from the late 1600s to about 1808, some 500,000 Africans were sold into slavery in North America" (Frazier, 1995). Many of those slaves landed in Charleston, South Carolina, and were put to work for their masters in plantations in both South Carolina and Georgia. The African slaves were kidnapped and put into bondage came from an area of Africa, according to Frazier's article, that "stretched from Senegal to Angola," which today includes Gambia and Sierra Leone.

Africans from that area of the continent helped raise rice, and used "wide fanner baskets to winnow the grain," and they also used covered baskets to store the crop once it was harvested, Frazier continues. Once they were working in the American colonies, their African culture "evolved into a culture called Gullah," and some of those people returned to Sierra Leone and that group became known later as "Krios." The crux of this story is that the making of "coiled baskets" - still crafted by Africans in Sierra Leone as well as African-Americans in South Carolina and Georgia, who are descendents of slaves who worked the plantations so many years ago - "bridges the two cultures," according to Frazier.

The coiled baskets are the same as they were hundreds of years ago. They consist of "tightly coiled rows of grass that spiral out from the bottom" Frazier explains. And while B.W. Watts sells baskets on the sidewalk just outside the federal courthouse in Charleston, S.C., and has for the past ten years, 4,000 miles away in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Miniratu Ibrahim sits in a big market selling the same kind of baskets to tourists. Cultures linked together, tied together, by the very crafts their peoples have been making and marketing for hundreds of years.

The difference is, in South Carolina, the coils are made from "gold-colored sweetgrass that grows wild at the edge of tidal marshes," and the baskets are decorated with "brown long-leaf pine needles or bulrush," and they are partially wrapped with palmetto leaves, Frazier explains. The Freetown baskets are made from swamp grass shaped into bundles "and completely wrapped with palm leaves"; the palm-leaf wrapping is sometimes colored, "created designs around the basket," Frazier continued.

The sad part of this cultural linkage story is that while the baskets in South Carolina sell very well, and there are plenty of tourists to buy them, there is a civil war going on in Sierra Leone, and because it is very dangerous to venture into the market area where traditionally the baskets are sold, according to Frazier. And worse, "news of the fighting in the international media has sharply reduced tourist travel to Sierra Leone," Frazier points out. "That has left Ibrahim with fewer buyers... [and] her table is often piled high with baskets waiting to be sold."

Thomas J. Kitson, meanwhile, writing in Research in African Literature ("Tempering Race and Nation: Recent Debates in Diaspora Identity"), quotes novelist Ralph Ellison's writing about the peoples of partial African origin, who are "scattered throughout the world"; they are not linked by culture, but rather through "an identity of passions," he asserted. And those folks, Ellison writes, share with him "a hatred for the alienation forced upon us by Europeans during the process of colonization and empire." The "suffering" binds African peoples together more than the shared "pigmentation."

With that, Kitson asks a series of questions in his essay about whether or not Africans truly shared a "common culture" prior to their diaspora experience and whether or not there might now be "common culture" to recover. And indeed, he wonders, what is it "that compels them to continue investing their passions in their loss?"

Kitson helps answer his own somewhat difficult questions by reaching out to African literary figures - the very talent that Mineke Schipper believes is not taken seriously by the world outside Africa. For example, Kitson invokes the work of Kwame Anthony Appiah, who wrote In My Father's House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture. Appiah would agree of some of what Ellison wrote, Kitson explains, including the assertion of Ellison that Africans do not have a common culture.

But, Kitson goes on, Appiah would disagree with Ellison's "identity of passions," and instead Appiah sees the world (in his book) "...as a network of points of affinity." That is certainly a more positive, uplifting way of approaching the legacy of African diaspora. Appiah clearly views the dispersal of many Africans as "an experience of multiple identities," Kitson explains, and every individual's identity of course differs slightly from the next person's identity.

Identities are complex and multiple and grow out of a history of changing responses to economic, political, and culture forces, almost always in opposition to other identities," Appiah writes on page 178 of his book. And those identities "...flourish despite...their roots in myths and lies," Appiah continues; and there is "...in consequence, no large place for reason in the construction - as opposed to the study and management - of identities."

And so, the author is urging intellectuals to see identities as transparent, and to resist "myths and lies" while at the same time reassessing the real identities of Africans once the "mystifications" have been disposed of. Appiah seems the kind of writer who is saying, through his work, that anger and rage at the diaspora of the past is useless and wasteful. His use of the word "race" is not in the traditional biological sense, nor the historical or metaphysical senses. In fact, to recognize the historical experience of slavery (e.g. diaspora) as "unifying" today's Africans is useless because that implies the common culture or identity of Africans, which Appiah has already denied exists.

What Appiah's book calls for is "another set of stories" that will indeed help Africans "build...identities through which we can make more productive alliances." In other words, the best way to begin to weave a tapestry of African cultural commonness is by starting over, wiping the blackboard clean of old chalk marks, and using a fresh piece of chalk to begin drawing a new strategy for all to see. And in order to wipe that metaphorical blackboard clean, Kitson suggests, Africans must counter their "alienated image" in the "European discourse of race" through their own writings in African publications. And moreover, Africans and African-Americans must create or at least make available to the young "a system of liberal education that would affirm their race pride and mission."

Another author that Kitson alludes to in his essay on culture and Africa is Molefi Kete Asante, who wrote The Afrocentric Idea. In his book, Asante writes that "It is clear to me from my own study of history that cultures do exist and in fact persist for centuries with many basic characteristics hardly changed." This is a far cry from Appiah's approach, but then, why would African writers be any more inclined to share the same attitudes and perspectives as Africans (who are dispersed world-wide) would share histories?

When human societies are operating "...on the foundations of myths, history, and memories," Asante continues, "There are certain essential characteristics that identify the contours of our African-American community. These are not immutable characteristics, in the sense of being inborn, but rather the fundamental outlines of what we regard and preserve as characteristic of our society," according to Asante. He avoids the term and concept of "race" and focuses instead on "a coherent culture," Kitson insists.

And though Asante tries to break away from the kind of race-based literary rage…[continue]

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